Scientists found working out with someone else was the key to staying motivated – even if the partner was virtual. A team from Michigan State University recruited 58 young women to take part in a six sessions on an exercise bike. All of them were told to cycle for as long as they felt comfortable. One group cycled alone while another cycled with a virtual partner who they first ‘met’ via a pre-recorded video chat. They were told that the ‘virtually present partner’ would be riding at the same time on a similar bike in another lab.
During the exercise sessions, participants with a partner were able to track their progress by watching what looked like a live feed but was in fact a recording. The scientists told these participants that their partner’s performance was a little better than their own. The women were then asked to rate their intention to exercise again, how well they felt they had done and how tired they felt. The researchers also measured how hard they had worked.
The results revealed that the women cycling with a virtual performance exercised for 22 minutes, which was twice as long as those cycling alone. Those exercising solo also saw a marked decline in intent to exercise while the other reported no decline in motivation.
The authors conclude: ‘Being able to more than double one’s performance is a substantial gain for those trying to increase their physical activity. These results are encouraging and suggest that the gains we observed over six hour-long sessions could be sustained on a longer-term program of exercise. This may be of particular value in future efforts to help people meet physical activity recommendations.’